Ipsen jumps into the TCR space, teaming with startup helmed by former Merck KGaA cancer chief
Ipsen is continuing its dealmaking ways to kick off the new month, shelling out a handsome $45 million upfront to a TCR upstart Monday morning.
The French pharma company is partnering with Marengo Therapeutics on two experimental drugs, with the biotech taking on preclinical work and Ipsen planning to run the clinical studies. And the payoff for Marengo could be huge — Ipsen is promising nearly $1.6 billion in milestones if both programs hit all of their goals.
Monday’s partnership is Ipsen’s first following its $247 million Epizyme buyout at the end of June and continues a dealmaking spree dating back a little over a year. The company has engaged in all sorts of deals in that time, including with IRLAB on a disease related to Parkinson’s, BAKX Therapeutics in cancer and Exicure for Huntington’s.
Ipsen also put down $136 million upfront last December to partner with Genfit in NASH, in one of its bigger recent deals.
As it continues hunting its next big R&D prize, Ipsen is aiming to move past the $1.3 billion Clementia buyout that sputtered after its main drug was hit with a futility failure. In order to fund its wheeling and dealing going forward, Ipsen spun out its consumer division this past February for $460 million, and the Marengo deal is the latest in that effort.
Marengo, meanwhile, has been focused on advancing its bispecific antibody platform targeting a spot on T cell receptors known as variable β chains and their variants. It’s an approach execs hope will help them set the company apart in an ever-growing immuno-oncology space that’s now seen seven PD-(L)1 drugs approved by the FDA.
The biotech launched last November with $80 million in cash and has steadily marched toward the clinic with its lead program. As Marengo CEO Zhen Su previously told Endpoints News, its I/O approach can be compared to a car: If PD-(L)1 drugs are akin to releasing the immune system’s brakes, then Marengo’s approach turbocharges the engine.
Marengo hopes to file an IND for its lead candidate, known as STAR0602, before the year is out.
TCR therapies have been all the rage in the I/O space, particularly after Immunocore nabbed the first-ever TCR approval earlier this year. And as Adaptimmune prepares to submit its own FDA pitch, more VCs are starting to take a closer look: In April, RA Capital, Jeito and Omega all backed a $76 million Series A for a little-known Swiss biotech called CDR-Life.